WBEZ | Broadway http://www.wbez.org/tags/broadway Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en What 'Hamilton' Can Teach Us About Central Banking http://www.wbez.org/news/what-hamilton-can-teach-us-about-central-banking-114096 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ham.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" id="1" src="http://www.marketplace.org/sites/default/files/styles/primary-image-766x447/public/ham.jpg?itok=e3wW6kzV" style="height: 362px; width: 620px;" title="Cast of Hamilton perform at 'Hamilton' Broadway Opening Night at Richard Rodgers Theatre. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><div><p style="margin: 0px 0px 1.42857em; color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: Georgia, 'Times New Roman', Times, 'DejaVu Serif', serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">Authorities at the Federal Reserve are meeting next week on whether to start raising interest rates for the first time in nine years. And i<span style="line-height: 1.42857em;">f you head over to Broadway, there&#39;s a history lesson being performed every night about Alexander Hamilton fighting for what would eventually become the Fed.</span></p><p style="margin: 1.42857em 0px; color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: Georgia, 'Times New Roman', Times, 'DejaVu Serif', serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><span style="line-height: 1.42857em;">Jeffrey Seller, one of the producers of the Broadway blockbuster, joined us to talk about taking a risk on a show about&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.42857em;">America&#39;s first treasury secretary, and what the show&#39;s ticket lottery system teaches us about queuing theory.</span></p><p style="margin: 1.42857em 0px; color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: Georgia, 'Times New Roman', Times, 'DejaVu Serif', serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><span style="line-height: 1.42857em;"><em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/marketplace/why-the-rockefeller-foundation-is-getting-behind-hamilton" target="_blank">Here&#39;s our conversation with&nbsp;Judith Rodin</a>, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, about subsidizing &ldquo;Hamilton&rdquo; tickets for NYC high schoolers:</em></span></p><p style="margin: 1.42857em 0px; color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: Georgia, 'Times New Roman', Times, 'DejaVu Serif', serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><span style="line-height: 1.42857em;"><em><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/236623029&amp;color=ff5500" width="100%"></iframe></em></span></p></div><p>The Associated Press reports that a production of &quot;Hamilton&quot; is headed to Chicago:</p><blockquote><p>Producers said Tuesday that performances will begin Sept. 27 at the newly named The PrivateBank Theatre. It&#39;s a coup for&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;since the city has lured the hottest stage show in years and beaten a rival theater town where it might play well, too &mdash; Washington, D.C.</p><p>Group tickets for the&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;run will go on sale Jan. 5. Single ticket sales will be announced at a later date.</p></blockquote><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/2015/12/08/business/what-hamilton-can-teach-us-about-central-banking" target="_blank"><em>via Marketplace</em></a></p></p> Tue, 08 Dec 2015 11:27:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-hamilton-can-teach-us-about-central-banking-114096 What the Tony Awards are really for http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/what-tony-awards-are-really-99878 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ghost%20the%20Musical%20AP.jpg" title="Da'Vine Joy Randolph performs in a scene from ‘Ghost The Musical’ at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York. Randolph, who plays a sassy psychic, earned a Tony Award nomination for her Broadway debut. (AP/The Hartman Group, Joan Marcus)" /></div><p>The Tony Awards, and particularly their upcoming broadcast on Sunday night, are designed to solve two theater-industry problems, one insoluble and the other self-inflicted.</p><p>The insoluble problem is that theater is, by definition, local: One group of audience members at one location sees one group of players do something that will never be repeated.&nbsp;Oh, the script may be repeated, even in the same location and with the same cast, but it won&rsquo;t be the same show, because every night the energy level of the actors will be different, so their chemistry with each other and with the audience will be different.&nbsp;More to the point, though, if you&rsquo;re not in New York you&rsquo;re not going to see shows that only play in New York.&nbsp;And by the time they get to Chicago (or Altoona) you may have forgotten about them completely.&nbsp;After all, what&rsquo;s to remember?&nbsp;A name?&nbsp;You&rsquo;ve seen nothing of the shows, heard nothing about the shows and&ndash;if you live in Chicago&ndash;you have plenty of local theater of your own to pay attention to.</p><p>So Broadway producers have a problem: how to attract and maintain the attention of people who might like their show but don&rsquo;t live in Manhattan.&nbsp;For those people (that would be all of us), the Tony Awards function as a sort of <em>Good Housekeeping</em> Seal of Approval. If you visit New York without obsessively scanning the critics (and it pains me as a critic to note how few people are scanning me obsessively!), you have only two ways of identifying shows that might conceivably be worth your time and money: a sign saying &ldquo;Seventh Smash Year!&rdquo; or words to that effect, and a sign saying &ldquo;Tony Award-winning.&rdquo;&nbsp; And if you think the latter sign is unimportant, check <em>Variety</em> on Monday to see how many Tony-less shows are posting their closing notices. &nbsp;<br /><br />The second, self-inflicted problem is implied in the first: in asking, &ldquo;What shows might conceivably be worth $100-plus a ticket?&rdquo; you&rsquo;re inevitably asking if anything could be. When shows are that expensive, you don&rsquo;t want to take a risk.&nbsp;Let us all praise cutting-edge theater, of course, but there&rsquo;s no particular virtue in a family of four&rsquo;s risking that a $1,000 evening of dinner-and-a-show is a disaster.&nbsp;If those prices had been in effect when my parents were taking us on our annual theater trip to New York, I wouldn&rsquo;t be a theater critic, because we would have seen one pre-approved show instead of three what-the-hell-let&rsquo;s-try-its. &nbsp;<br /><br />The Tony Awards can&#39;t change the fact that Broadway theater is no longer within the reach of ordinary middle-class people&ndash;because like the light bulb in the joke, Broadway really has to want to change. But why would it?&nbsp;Broadway shows charge as much as they do for the same reason dogs lick their private parts: because they can.&nbsp;And as long as the producers are making money, who cares whether their pricing policies are rapidly turning theater from an essential communications art form into a fetish?<br /><br />Enjoy the show.</p></p> Thu, 07 Jun 2012 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/what-tony-awards-are-really-99878 Paul Oakley Stovall on 'Animal House' and the state of the American musical http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/paul-oakley-stovall-animal-house-and-state-american-musical-98891 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/animal house universal pictures.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Dg7E2pbG5QE" width="560"></iframe></p><p><em>In March, it was announced that </em>Animal House<em>, that time-weathered classic of American cinema, would be adapted for the stage. An odd choice, some said. Others, like Paul Oakley Stovall, whose new play</em> Immediate Family<em>, directed by Phylicia Rashad,&nbsp;will <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-04/daily-rehearsal-phylicia-rashad-direct-new-paul-oakley-stovall-play">be at the Goodman Theatre</a> in June, thought it more than odd; in this </em>The Paper Machete <em>essay from March, Stovall argues that the New American Musical is ruining a purely American art form. Read it below or listen above.</em></p><p>"EXTRA EXTRA HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS(IES)? <em>BULLETS OVER BROADWAY</em> will take a <em>LEAP OF FAITH</em> with <em>SPIDERMAN </em>over the <em>ANIMAL HOUSE</em> on Broadway...but only <em>ONCE</em>.&nbsp;</p><p>Yes, it’s true. Another crop of wonderful movies are ready to bore (or are already boring) you to death as Broadway musicals. Or piss you off. Or drive you to pills and booze. Or maybe just maybe encourage someone to (gasp) come up with an original idea and write an original musical -- with original music even!! &nbsp;</p><p>But don’t hold your breath.&nbsp;</p><p>Over the past few years we’ve been, I'd say, assaulted with <em>Legally Blonde</em>, <em>The Wedding Singer</em>, <em>The Little Mermaid</em>, <em>Jekyll and Hyde</em> (which is possibly coming back with Constantine Maroulis from <em>American Idol</em> fame--more on that later), <em>The Color Purple</em> (oh the colored people), <em>How the Grinch Stole Broadway</em>, er, Christmas, <em>Wonderland </em>(wonder why land), <em>Big</em>, <em>Mary Poppins</em>, <em>Hairspray</em> and <em>The Lion King</em>, to name, sadly, just a few.&nbsp;</p><p>We could throw in <em>Wicked</em>, <em>Seussical </em>and <em>Spamalot</em>, as they are based on source material....exquisite source material I might add.</p><p>To be fair, now and then, this rejiggering of a hit film or even a not so much of a hit film can work. <em>Beauty and the Beast</em> is faithful to the story and wonderful for kids. But it was kind of a musical already. <em>Victor/Victoria</em> is another example that comes to mind. &nbsp;However it was set in a musical milieu. The <em>stuff </em>was already there.</p><p>Now the jukebox musical--<em>Good Vibrations</em> anyone? <em>All Shook Up</em>? The film “adaptation”, or rather reduction, is becoming the norm, while the BROADWAY MUSICAL (could you feel the all caps in the way that was said?), that's an American art form. An original american art form, one of the few that we can really claim as purely american. So why is it being tossed away? Why are we more interested in developing <em>Sleepless in Seattle</em> the musical? &nbsp;Yes, it is happening. The two leads don’t see each other until the end, and yet there is confusion amongst the producers like why the workshops are fizzling and not working...oy oy oy.</p><p>Whose bright idea was it to make <em>Catch Me If You Can</em> into a Broadway musical?!?!&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Leave me alone! I’m not interested in catching you. Stay in hiding. Or better yet, stay on celluloid, where a film like that had a least modest success in what it was aiming for.</p><p>So whose idea was it? Who let that happen?</p><p>It was the idea of someone who wanted to make money. It was the idea of someone who was falling right in line with those who now see dollar signs rather than rallying cries of social change when they think of this pure American art form called the Broadway musical.</p><p>The new American musical, created lately by artists like Stew, a Tony-award-winner for his book of <em>Passing Strange</em>, or the revered Tony Kushner, who, with Jeanine Tesori (who we'll forgive for <em>Shrek</em>) created <em>Caroline, or Change</em>. They're sadly few and far between these days. &nbsp;nd when we do get something original, the best of them usually don’t make it to the big time, to make room for things like <em>13</em>....about a bunch of 13 year olds.....singing about....things that 13 year olds care about....but not written by 13 year olds....which could have made it interesting. &nbsp;</p><p>However, artists&nbsp; like Stew and Kushner and Tesori and the wonderful artists at Dog and Pony Theater Company who made an original musical called <em>God's Ear</em> -- they're pushing the form forward. Now admittedly, none of those aforementioned projects turned a profit. <em>Caroline, or Change</em> has had an extremely healthy regional life and Stew is prolifically creating new projects. But that’s neither here nor there. The argument that is thrown out is that, “Hey, we gotta make money! And we gotta give the people what they want!” Pfft. The people don’t know what they want. They know that they want to be extertained! &nbsp;Let me say that again.&nbsp;They want to be extertained! And not by the latest <em>American Idol</em> runner up. See Maroulis. Or Diana DeGarmo, or Ace what’s hisname, or....yeah.</p><p><em>Shrek The Musical</em>, sorry Jeanine, ain’t it. It might illicit some silly giggles, but true entertainment includes an enriching of the soul, a lifting of the spirit, a challenge to the brain, a massaging of the heart. <em>9 to 5</em>? <em>Young Frankenstein</em>?&nbsp; <em>Xanadu</em>? <em>High Fidelity</em>? <em>Urban Cowboy</em>?<em> Chitty Chitty Bang Bang</em>?&nbsp; Those films were just fine the way they were. Entertaining classics that spoke to their genre in a very specific way, whether you liked the film or not. But <em>Gone With the Wind</em>, the musical?&nbsp; That ain’t it kid. Give me <em>A Chorus Line</em>. <em>Carousel</em>, <em>Gypsy</em>, <em>Porgy and Bess</em>, <em>South Pacific</em>, <em>Avenue Q</em>, <em>Ragtime</em>, <em>Anything Goes</em> and <em>Rent</em>. But <em>Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown</em> almost made me have one!</p><p>This lack of effort really &nbsp;-- that's what it is, a lack of effort on the part of producers to seek out original material. A lack of effort on the part of artists to insist on bringing original and current and politically relevant material to the table, and on the part of the general public (that's us), the consumer, to demand better quality material -- and frankly, to say, “Hey, I already love <em>Animal House</em>, it’s a classic; Hey, I can recite every line in <em>Bullets Over Broadway</em>; <em>Desperately Seeking Susan</em> ain’t Shakespeare but it’s quirky and perfect just the way I remember it -- this, my friends, this signals a malaise that frankly goes deeper than the rash that accompanies the news that <em>Footloose </em>is being developed for Broadway.</p><p>FIlm is not a literary medium. It doesn’t want lots of words, and rarely does it want songs, and even rarer does it need a dance number.</p><p>Fixing this will take a digging in of the heels from all of us So the great work begins. The American Musical represents something purely American and it should be protected and nurtured and brought back to life. Like the White House garden.</p><p><a href="http://thepapermacheteshow.com/" target="_blank">The Paper Machete</a>&nbsp;<em>is a weekly live magazine at the Horseshoe in North Center. It's always at 3 p.m., it's always on Saturday, and it's always free. Get all your</em>&nbsp;The Paper Machete Radio Magazine&nbsp;<em>needs filled&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/paper-machete" target="_blank">here</a>, or download the podcast from iTunes&nbsp;<a href="http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-paper-machete-radio-magazine/id450280345" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 07 May 2012 11:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/paul-oakley-stovall-animal-house-and-state-american-musical-98891 Act locally, think Broadway: Tax credits for big commercial shows http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" alt="" /><p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman discuss tax breaks for theaters on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>, and Chicago Fusion Theatre's 'Las Hermanas Padillas'</span></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="/sites/default/files/120302 848 SEG B_0.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-126862" player="null">120302 848 SEG B.mp3</span></p></div></div><p>Late last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation granting extensive tax breaks to a pair of super-wealthy corporate entities (Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) in response to their threats that they would take their business elsewhere. This legislation, which turned even reformist governor Pat Quinn into a political whore, was widely reported and debated in the media.</p><p>What was not debated and little-reported was that the bill included additional provisions providing tax “incentives” (to use the politic word) for other businesses as well, one of them being Broadway producers of live theater, who now may be granted tax credits similar to those offered movie producers who bring feature film and TV production to Illinois.</p><p>The wording of the theater-related provisions is significantly odd. The preamble states, "It shall be the policy of this State to promote and encourage the&nbsp; training and hiring of Illinois residents who represent the diversity of the Illinois population through the creation and implementation of training, education, and recruitment programs organized in cooperation with Illinois colleges and universities, labor organizations, and the commercial for-profit live theater industry." It reminds me of my high school intelligence tests: “Which of these words does not belong in the group?”</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 463px;" title="(Flickr/Steve Minor)"></p><p>The bill goes on to state that tax credits for Illinois labor and production expenditures will be granted only to producers holding an “accredited theater production certificate,” and that said certificates will be issued only to shows spending $100,000 or more which are performed in theaters of 1,200 seats or more, and either are scheduled for Broadway within 12 months of playing Chicago or are scheduled for a “long-run” here, which is defined as more than eight weeks and at least six shows a week.</p><p>Whether benefiting Sears, the CME or a Broadway show, this bill is an egregious example of special interest legislation, and special interest legislation always is sleazy, sneaky, skanky, shady, greasy, garbanzo and Doc. One thing it definitely is not is Bashful. Each and every piece of it has its defenders and apologists, but the essence of it—literally by definition—is a denial of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Whether in Congress, state legislature, county board or city council, such laws rarely are debated, often&nbsp; are passed in the dark of night (such as being tacked on to some unrelated piece of legislation) and virtually never are transparent. Whenever a piece of special interest legislation is enacted, you can smell the political fat sizzling in the pan.</p><p>Yeah, but this one is <em>my</em> special interest legislation: it serves the industry I cover as a critic and arts business reporter and, if successful, it will make my work and Chicago theater-going a lot more exciting. Whenever our Downtown theaters are doing business, a helluva lot of others also do business: hotels, restaurants, parking garages, taxi cabs, etc. as well as stage hands, electricians, musicians, ushers, concessionaires, actors, etc. All of these service-providers, both individuals and companies, in turn pay their taxes to the city, county and state. The performing arts (and other arts) are a proven economic engine that returns far, far more to the city/county/state than any public dollars invested.</p><p>Maybe this thing actually is good for everyone, even though it directly benefits only a very narrow range of entitites. Who does it benefit? The voting and tax-paying public, in whose name this law was enacted and signed, has every right to ask.</p><p>The bill’s set of parameters could provide tax credits on the one hand for a pre-Broadway show playing here for three or four weeks (as did <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>The Producers</em> for example) or, on the other hand, for the umpteenth repeat visit by <em>Cats</em> or <em>Mamma Mia</em>, providing they stayed here for at least eight weeks and a day. On that basis, the number of possible producers and production companies is open-ended.</p><p>Far more limiting is the bill’s requirement that an “accredited theater production” must be staged in a venue with 1,200 or more seats. In theory, this could benefit shows coming to the Rosemont Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Civic Opera House or Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, for example. However, the current professional theater landscape strongly suggests that the most likely candidates are shows coming to theaters under the Broadway In Chicago brand name.</p><p>Broadway In Chicago (BIC) is the local outpost of the New York-based Nederlander Organization, which owns a huge amount of theater real estate across the country and also invests money in Broadway shows. In Chicago, the Nederlander Organization owns the Oriental, Cadillac Palace and Bank of America theaters, leases the Broadway Playhouse (former Drury Lane Theatre in Water Tower Place) and also programs occasional theater attractions into the Auditorium Theatre, all under the Broadway In Chicago name. With the exception of the 500-seat Broadway Playhouse, all the BIC houses can host “accredited theater productions.”</p><p>BIC makes it money by renting out its properties, and by providing management and marketing services, so the more shows presented in its properties, the merrier all around. It should come as no surprise that BIC executives were among the movers and shakers who moved this bill along. They don’t like their theaters to sit dark and empty for weeks or even months at a time, as the Cadillac Palace and Oriental have been sitting recently (and will through most of the summer).</p><p>The BIC folks, and their bosses at the Nederlander Organization in New York, are nothing if not savvy and smart players. BIC theaters already have played host to numerous long-run attractions and pre-Broadway try-outs. <em>Jersey Boys</em> was here for over 18 months and <em>Wicked</em> for over two years. And pre-Broadway try-outs over the last decade include <em>The Producers</em>, <em>Jekyll and Hyde</em>, <em>Pirate Queen</em>, <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>Sweet Smell of Success</em>. Now they want more such shows to come more often, hence the tax credit.</p><p>They want the market value of a blockbuster Broadway hit sitting down here for months or years, and they want the glamor of big-name stars trying out a brand-new show. Frankly, I want them, too. Both of these things would make Chicago even more important than it already is as a national theater center, and that would make Chicago’s theater critics—hey, that’s me—more powerful and prominent nationally.</p><p>However, it plays out, this new legislation already has greased the skids: a Broadway In Chicago executive has told me that Chicago will see a half-dozen shows in the next year that will take advantage of the tax credits, the first of them being the pre-Broadway <em>Kinky Boots</em> (with Cindy Lauper) coming in the fall, followed in December by <em>The Book of Mormon</em>, which will sit-down here for a multiple-month run.</p><p>But is there any direct benefit to audiences, to the folks who slap down the debit card to buy the tickets? Will the thousands of dollars in weekly/monthly savings be passed along in the form of lower ticket prices? Will the $100 dollar orchestra seat fall to $80? The $65 balcony seat to $50? The $40 second balcony seat to $25? Now, <em>that</em> would have direct and meaningful value to the Good People of Illinois in whose name this legislation was signed and sealed.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 02 Mar 2012 13:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 Jessie Mueller scores in B'way debut; local troupes move north http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-13/jessie-mueller-scores-bway-debut-local-troupes-move-north-94858 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-13/AP111211064956.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-13/AP111211064956.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 266px; height: 400px; " title="Mueller on opening night. (AP/Charles Sykes)">“It’s an ill wind that blows no one good,” goes the old proverb. While the breezes were rather chilly concerning the Broadway revival of <em>On A Clear Day You Can See Forever</em>, they shifted to southerly and warm for Jessie Mueller, the Chicagoan making her Broadway debut in the show. That’s another way of saying the critics generally panned the show, but had only praise for Mueller, in what appears to be a star-making role for her.</p><p>The odd 1965 musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane—about past-life regression, hypnosis and reincarnation—opened Sunday (December 11) at the St. James Theatre on the Great White Way to mixed-to-negative reviews for the total show and definitely negative notices for star Harry Connick, Jr. (stiff, wooden and uncomfortable, they said). However, Mueller was singled out as a ray of sunshine in the leading female role, a 1940’s singer named Melinda.</p><p>“Mueller combines period vocal technique with natural, uninflected charisma and an on-stage relaxation not often seen outside of Chi-town,” <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2011/12/theater-review-on-a-clear-day.html">said <em>New York Magazine</em>&nbsp;reviwer Scott Brown</a>. “Her voice contains notes of Garland, but she’s no diva—this is a star of supreme self-possession, one who doesn’t need to blind us to impress us.”</p><p>In <a href="http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946735?refcatid=33&amp;printerfriendly=true"><em>Variety</em>, Steve Suskin wrote</a>, “The main items of interest in this misguided affair are the performances of the split-in-two heroine. Jessie Mueller, as the glamorous Melinda, is a find; the character has been transformed into a 1943 jazz singer, and Mueller handles this extremely well when given a chance . . . .”</p><p>In the influential <a href="http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/on-a-clear-day-reincarnated-nicely-1.3382599"><em>Newsday</em>, Linda Winer said</a>, “It helps credibility that Jessie Mueller . . . happens to be pretty irresistible, too. Mueller, a Chicago talent in her Broadway debut, has a forthright, confident rhythm that suggests a young Liza Minelli but a delicate, deliciously precise sound all her own.”</p><p>Even Ben Brantley, in the all-powerful<em> <a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/theater/reviews/on-a-clear-day-you-can-see-forever-at-st-james-review.html?hpw">New York Times</a></em><a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/theater/reviews/on-a-clear-day-you-can-see-forever-at-st-james-review.html?hpw">, said that</a> “Ms. Mueller, who has a fetching affinity for swing-era song stylings, comes off better. (Her version of ‘Ev’ry Night at Seven’ . . . is the show’s high point.)”</p><p>If the show runs for even a few months, perhaps limping into the spring on the strength of Harry Connick, Jr.’s drawing power and a few mixed-to-positive reviews, Jessie Mueller might find herself with a Tony Award nomination in her Broadway debut; but the shorter the run the less likely that will be. Whatever the fate of the show, however, Mueller comes out smelling like a rose in what the industry likes to call “a break-out performance.” The big and bright future for Ms. Mueller, predicted long-ago here in Chicago, certainly is upon her.</p><p><strong>I can’t name names just yet</strong>, but look for an announcement early in the new year about a major move by a stalwart Off-Loop theater company. The North Side troupe has had landlord problems for a long time, despite nearly 20 years of residency in its current location. Fortunately, the company has identified a larger, better venue in the same extended neighborhood and will be making the move official shortly after January 1. The troupe expects to open a show in the new space in mid-winter.</p><p>Teatro Luna, the 10-year old collective of Latina writers and performers, also is making a North Side move. The company has been without a permanent home since giving up its Pilsen storefront at least five years ago. As an itinerant company, they’ve played venues in Little Village and The Loop as well as several on the North Side. Now the company has signed a five-year lease for the Live Bait space at 3912 N. Clark Street, previously occupied by The Artistic Home (and, of course, Live Bait before that). The double storefront space has two theaters, which will give Teatro Luna opportunities to sublet one or both theaters when they aren’t producing themselves. The current Teatro Luna show, <em>Crossed</em>, is playing at The Viaduct through Dec. 18. The</p></p> Tue, 13 Dec 2011 16:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-13/jessie-mueller-scores-bway-debut-local-troupes-move-north-94858 Brian d'Arcy James talks 'Shrek,' 'Smash,' sisters and other things not beginning with the letter s http://www.wbez.org/blog/mark-bazer/2011-11-08/brian-darcy-james-talks-shrek-smash-sisters-and-other-things-not-beginnin <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-09/brian darcy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Few people know more about both the making of a Broadway musical and making it as an actor on Broadway than Brian d'Arcy James.</p><p>And now James, whose on and off Broadway credits include <em>Time Stands Still</em>, <em>Sweet Smell of Success</em>, <em>The Good Thief</em>, <em>Titanic</em> and <em>Shrek</em> (as Shrek!), is set to star in a TV show about those very subjects.</p><p><em>Smash</em>, which premieres Feb. 6 on NBC, tells the fictional story of the making of a musical about Marilyn Monroe and how it consumes not just the lives of the show's stars, producers, songwriters and director but each of their families as well.&nbsp;</p><p>James stopped by <em>The Interview Show</em> last month in Brooklyn, where we talked about his role as the husband of one of the musical's songwriters (played by Debra Messing), his career on Broadway and how he reacted when he was asked to audition to be Shrek. Plus, he high-fives his sister (Schadenfreude member Kate James) and performs one of his favorite songs.*</p><p>Hope you enjoy.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/BgnxUrVTzW8" width="560" frameborder="0" height="315"></iframe></p><p>*<em>We sincerely apologize for part of the performance being cut off. If you call us, we will sing the beginning of the song to make up for it.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 08 Nov 2011 21:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/mark-bazer/2011-11-08/brian-darcy-james-talks-shrek-smash-sisters-and-other-things-not-beginnin Daily Rehearsal: A non-look into the new Laugh Factory http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-28/daily-rehearsal-non-look-new-laugh-factory-93571 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-28/laugh-factory.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><span style="font-size: 14px;"><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;"><strong>1. <em>Chinglish o</em>pened on Broadway last night</strong></span></span>. Unfortunately, there's not much new to report; the information that <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2011/10/chinglish_playwright_david_hen.html">David Henry Hwang shares in his interview with<em> New York Magazine</em></a> isn't <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-24/chinglish-makes-comedy-out-cultural-confusion-88301">really news to us</a>. Changes to the production from when it was at the Goodman include some casting alterations;"&nbsp;the earnest if less-than-subtle British actor Stephen Pucci is now playing a character of his own nationality (Peter is no longer Australian)" (<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/theaterloop/ct-ae-1030-chinglish-20111027,0,4633332.column">via Chris Jones</a>). And as we know, "Gary Wilmes has <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-01/daily-rehearsal-new-york-cast-chinglish-has-one-surprise-91392">taken over the lead role of the Ohio businessman Daniel</a>." The problem with Wilmes? He "offers a fluid, quirky, restless performance of greater comedic sophistication in a Jon Stewart-like mode, but not the requisite vulnerability when it really matters."</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-28/laugh-factory.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 225px;" title=""><span style="font-size: 14px;"><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;"><strong>2. Take a look at the new Laugh Factory</strong></span></span>, aka the former Lakeshore Theater...but <a href="http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/comedy/15003009/a-first-look-at-chicagos-new-laugh-factory-comedy-club">as one commentor notes</a>, you can't really take a look at it, because there are no photos. So just <em>imagine </em>that you're walking through it and you can see it, like on the radio. Also: "The bathrooms sparkle with white tiles and an otherwise understated, contemporary look." And "An elevator is available for people with disabilities and valet parking will ease the neighborhood's horrific parking problem."&nbsp;Cool....</p><p><span style="font-size: 14px;"><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;"><strong>3.&nbsp;Clay Goodpasture</strong></span></span>, who is currently starring in the Annoyance's Halloween show,&nbsp;<i><a href="http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/splatter-theater/Event?oid=4743063" style="color: rgb(7, 120, 190);">Splatter Theatre</a></i>, <a href="http://www.chicagoreader.com/gyrobase/hackslash-chuck-palahnuik-haunted-the-haunting/Content?oid=4876180&amp;storyPage=3">says he's been reading&nbsp;<i>Haunted</i></a>, by Chuck Palahniuk. "Since it is a series of short stories, it is a great book for your morning commute," says Goodpasture. "Nothing wakes me up like an abnormally skinny man losing part of his lower intestine in a masturbation accident."</p><p><span style="font-size: 14px;"><strong><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;">4. Is the applause at the beginning of <a href="http://www.chicagonow.com/the-fourth-walsh/2011/10/chicago-theatre-off-book-chats-with-timeline-stage-773-and-reviews-lookingglass-the-lyric-and-strawdog-plus-got-a-minute/">Chicago Theater Off-Book</a> real?</span></strong></span> As in, "this is recorded in front of a live audience" real? Also props to Katy and Josh for remaining so upbeat, I seriously don't know how they do it.</p><p><span style="font-size: 14px;"><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;"><strong>5. No, but seriously why are we even bothering to talk about theater this weekend?</strong></span></span> Everyone knows that the best theater will be on the streets. If you're burning to get your fix, head to <a href="https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=294730300541597">Redmoon's Halloween party</a>, which is sure to be a good time, where there will be FIRE, performances and mechanical creations! Free entry with a DJ, but a cash bar -- email boxoffice@redmoon.org with questions.</p><p>And for questions for me, or if you have tips, email <a href="mailto:kdries@wbez.org">kdries@wbez.org</a>.</p></p> Fri, 28 Oct 2011 15:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-28/daily-rehearsal-non-look-new-laugh-factory-93571 Nussbaum and Mueller land juicy out-of-town roles http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-08-30/nussbaum-and-mueller-land-juicy-out-town-roles-91241 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-August/2011-08-30/AP041220014645.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" ap="" at="" class="caption" glen="" glengarry="" goodman="" ross="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-30/AP041220014645.jpg" style="margin-right: 15px; width: 500px; height: 341px;" the="" theatre.="" title="Mike Nussbaum, left, in 1984 in a scene from the play &quot;Glengarry Glen Ross&quot; at the Goodman Theatre. (AP/File)"></p><p>Iconic Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum has put on his traveling shoes for a rare trip out-of-town. He's playing Solomon Galkin in <em>Imagining Madoff</em>, a controversial play by Deborah Margolin presented at Theater J in Washington, DC, where former-Chicagoan Ari Roth is artistic director. As the title suggests, convicted financier Bernard Madoff is the antagonist of the play, which is a fictional account of Madoff being confronted by a man he's nearly ruined, Solomon Galkin. In the play, Galkin is a Holocaust survivor, important literary figure and noted philanthropist whose foundation is decimated by Madoff's collapse.</p><p>If Galkin sounds suspiciously like Elie Wiesel, that's because he originally WAS Wiesel as Margolin wrote the play. One of several high-profile Madoff victims, Wiesel made extremely nasty public comments when he heard about the play (before its 2010 world premiere) and threatened legal action if he wasn't removed from it. Margolin probably would have won any lawsuit--Wiesel is a public figure, after all, and he was not defamed in the play--but lawsuits are long and expensive so she chose instead to substitute the thinly fictionalized character of Galkin. The controversy was such that Theater J postponed production of <em>Imagining Madoff</em> for a year, thereby losing the chance to stage the world premiere (which was done at Stageworks/Hudson Stage in upstate New York). <em>Imaging Madoff</em> runs Aug. 31-Sept. 25 and is directed by Alexandra Aron.</p><p>Popular Chicago actor and singer Jessie Mueller has landed a plum co-starring role for her Broadway debut, playing the romantic lead opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in a big revival of the 1965 musical, <em>On a Clear Day You Can See Forever</em>. Mueller spent July in New York as part of a workshop for a new version of the show, after which she was signed for the real deal, to be directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer with a heavily reworked book by playwright Peter Parnell. The show's original authors, Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics), long since went to the Great White Way in the Sky.</p><p>In the original show (also made into a 1970 movie starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand), the heroine is drab Daisy Gamble who seeks hypnotherapy to stop smoking at the request of her boyfriend. Under hypnosis, she reveals to her psycho-therapist details of colorful past life as Melinda Wells in Regency-era London, and her doc falls for Melinda. In the 2011 version, the hero is David Gamble, a gay man who wants to stop smoking for his boyfriend. During hypnotherapy, David reveals details of his past life as 1940's jazz singer Melinda Wells, and the doc falls for Melinda. Connick is the doc and Jessie Mueller has the juicy role of Melinda.</p><p>A Jefferson Award winning performer, Mueller is the daughter of highly-regarded acting couple Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger, all four of whose kids have followed Ma and Pa into show biz. Mueller has worked at most of the big Chicago theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman and Marriott. <em>On a Clear Day You Can See Forever</em> is scheduled to begin previews Nov. 12 at Broadway's St. James Theatre, with a Dec. 11 opening night.</p><p>A Broadway casting notice for David Henry Hwang's <em>Chinglish</em> appeared in a recent edition of Back Stage, the national trade paper for actors, and it made clear that many roles from the June hit Goodman Theatre world premiere of the play may be up for grabs. Indeed, every role in the play was listed in the audition notice except that of Peter, the Australian character of European extraction who speaks fluent Mandarin, and who was played in Chicago by Stephen Pucci. As for the other roles--six actors playing eight characters, five of them Chinese and all of them needing to be fluent in Mandarin as well as English--all of them were described in detail. There was, however, one important caveat in the Aug. 11 posting: "Most positions in the Broadway production have been offered, but have not yet been accepted; they are therefore considered available." Of course, it can't hurt to audition if you have the acting chops and the language chops: the Broadway production also seeks understudies, and there could be a touring company in the future. By the way, Broadway minimum is $1,653 a week (trust me, these actors will earn more), rehearsals begin Sept. 12 under director Leigh Silverman (who directed Chinglish here), with previews beginning in October.</p></p> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 15:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-08-30/nussbaum-and-mueller-land-juicy-out-town-roles-91241 Stephen Colbert: In good 'Company' on Broadway http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-15/stephen-colbert-good-company-broadway-87872 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-15/115950217_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Stephen Colbert has run for president. He's testified before Congress, created a political action committee and assisted the U.S. Olympic speedskating team in the role of assistant sports psychologist. He has a spider named after him (the <em>Aptostichus stephencolberti</em>) as well as a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor (the Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream) and a NASA treadmill (the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT).</p><p>And now, the political satirist and award-winning host of <em>The Colbert Report</em> can add a new line to his resume: Broadway star.</p><p>The comedian and television host recently grabbed a straw hat and cane and performed as Harry in the 2011 New York Philharmonic production of Stephen Sondheim's <em>Company</em>. The revival, which also starred Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Christina Hendricks and Martha Plimpton, has been made into a film that plays this week in limited showings.</p><p>Colbert tells <em>Fresh Air</em>'s Terry Gross that he didn't fake "a single smile" during the show's entire run. "It's what I imagined I would be doing when I went to theater school," he says. "It was such a bungee into an old dream to go do something like that."</p><p>Colbert, who attended the theater program at Northwestern University, says he's a huge musical theater fan and that it was always his intention to spend his life acting on the stage.</p><p>"I imagined myself living in New York in some sort of open, large but sparse studio apartment with a lot of blond wood and a futon on the floor and a bubbling samovar of tea in the background and a big beard — living alone but with my beard — and doing theater," he says. "That's what I thought my life would be. It has not been — and I love what I do — but to be asked to do this and then to accept the challenge of it. ... I can la-di-da my way through things ... but to sing Sondheim is a completely different beast."</p><p><strong>Let Me Entertain You</strong></p><p>It was Sondheim, in fact, who wanted Colbert to perform in <em>Company</em>. After appearing on Colbert's show, Sondheim invited Colbert to appear in the production. But Colbert's agent turned the role down, saying that there was absolutely no way Colbert could fit the limited engagement into his busy taping schedule. That's when Sondheim wrote Colbert a personal note.</p><p>"[He said that] against his instincts, he had a good time on my show and would I consider playing Harry in <em>Company</em>?" he says. "And he ended the letter with the sentence 'You have a perfect voice for musical theater.' And I read it to my wife and she said, 'Boy, you have to do this. No one, let alone Stephen Sondheim is going to ask you to do Sondheim.' And I said, 'You're right, I have to do it.' "</p><p>Once he was cast, Colbert started taking voice lessons and gained a new respect, he says, for professional singers. "What I rediscovered was the therapeutic nature of singing lessons," he says. "They're like doing yoga but for [the] inside of your body. You open up and use muscles that you don't think of as malleable. ... You can turn your head into a bell. ... That's what we kept working on: resonance and projection and relaxation and just remembering or relearning how to breathe through a phrase. The technical aspects of it are fascinating to go through in the lessons. And then you have to forget all of it, and sing."</p><p>Because of the cast members' busy schedules, most of the rehearsals were conducted via the Internet. Colbert was given recordings of his harmonies and told to practice them alone. The cast got together infrequently to rehearse lines and choreography — and then performed live at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.</p><p>"On one level, it was impossible," he says, of the limited-run engagement. "In another way, it was the only way it could have gotten done — because you couldn't have gotten all of these people to commit to doing <em>Company</em>. ... I literally left rehearsal for <em>Company</em> [one night] and went and did "Friday" on Jimmy Fallon and then went back to <em>Company</em>. It was just a tremendous experience."</p><p><strong>In The Company Of The Colbert Report</strong></p><p>Colbert says he specifically chose not to mention his role in <em>Company</em> on his show <em>The Colbert Report</em> for two reasons. The first, he says, was to protect the production from any kind of "fake" endorsements.</p><p>"People could ascribe an insincerity to the things that I tout on the show," he explains. "And I didn't want to ascribe any insincerity to trying to go do this [musical] at Lincoln Center. Because I knew that I was dealing with somebody else's delicate product and I didn't want to invest it with my character's ego."</p><p>The second reason he chose not to mention <em>Company</em> on his TV show, says Colbert, is that he was worried that his performance wouldn't live up to his expectations.</p><p>"I had no idea if I wanted anyone to know I was doing it, because I knew how hard it was going to be," he says. "I was afraid I would suck. I don't mind failing so much, but I am a perfectionist. ... If you're a perfectionist and you know you're about to do something at which you cannot be perfect ... then that is daunting because you know what your heart is like and the way you approach your work. ... It was difficult to say 'Hold onto your socks America, I'm singing Sondheim.' "</p><p>After the production's run, Colbert sent a note to Sondheim, thanking him for getting him into "the most joyous trouble" he's ever been in.</p><p>"I tell a lot of young performers, 'Go get in trouble. Go commit yourself to something you're not sure you can do,' " he says. "And I followed my own advice. It was something I desperately wanted to do — not as a career — but an invitation I knew I couldn't refuse and yet had no sense of whether or not I could do it. And that is trouble — but it was all so joyful. I'm very grateful to Mr. Sondheim that he got me in such trouble."</p><p><h3></h3></p><p><hr /></p><p><h3>Interview Highlights</h3></p><p><strong>On becoming part of <a href="http://www.colbertnation.com/video/tag/Anthony+Weiner">the Anthony Weiner story</a> (when it was revealed that some of his text messages included messages about <em>The Colbert Report</em>)</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"I couldn't be more thrilled to find out that we ourselves were part of the content because it's my character's greatest dream — it's all he wants to do, is be the news. ... That's one of the reasons we ran for president in 2007-2008 because [my character] didn't like that the story was getting bigger than him. He has to be at the center of the story. One of the touchstones for the character is Bill O'Reilly, and years ago, I heard Bill O'Reilly say to President Bush, 'Guys like us.' And I thought 'Wow, he thinks of himself just equal to the president.'</p><p>"So my character thinks of himself as at least equal with any story and so while this Weiner thing was just consuming the world of news, to be part of it, to be in the reporting — to have my name in there — was a complete validation. As much as [my character] may demur and say he doesn't want to be associated with such unsavory details, in fact he was thrilled. I was, too, to have such a pure expression of his ego right there on paper."</p><p><strong>On how mainstream media cover stories by using his jokes instead of talking about the salacious details</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"They can obviate the sin of it by playing our jokes. That's nice."</p><p><strong>On his <a href="http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/388583/june-06-2011/paul-revere-s-famous-ride">recent segment</a> about Sarah Palin and Paul Revere [see <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/06/136997415/sarah-palins-had-her-say-now-lets-hear-from-paul-revere">NPR story</a> for background]</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"That entire bit came around because my executive producer Tom Purcell said, 'Wait a second. Play that again. Did she just say 'warning shot'? That's completely a 19th or 20th century idea that you can fire a warning shot. That's a repeating rifle idea. You don't fire a warning shot with a muzzle-loading gun. It takes three minutes or something to load it. Why would you waste it on a warning shot? That's what 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes' is about. We don't get a second shot.' So I said 'I should try to do that. I should try to show them how impossible that is. That's how it came about."</p><p><strong>On <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1T75jBYeCs">testifying</a> before the House Subcommittee on Immigration in 2010 [see <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/09/24/130096668/colbert-bringing-more-truthiness-to-capitol-hill-today">NPR story</a> for background]</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"People went crazy. Two days before I was supposed to go down there, they said, 'Can we confirm that you're coming?' And I said, 'Yeah, I like the speech we're working on and I'm prepared to do this.' An hour after they announced it, they were ready to cancel it because the press had gone crazy and Republicans had gone crazy. And I said, 'Well, just tell me now because I don't want to work on the speech for another 24 hours because we have a show to do.' And the congresswoman [in charge of the committee] was really nice. She said, 'No, I said that you can come and I'm going to stand by my word.'</p><p>"... So when [John] Conyers (D-MI) said, before anything started, 'I'd like you to submit your statement [and then leave before testifying],' I was really confused because I was told everything was fine. And I said, 'Are you asking me not to talk?' And he said, 'I'm asking you to leave.' And that's when I actually started getting <em>not</em> nervous because something was happening that I didn't expect — and I thought, 'Oh this is fascinating. This is far more interesting than I thought. I'm watching a fight that I don't know about and I'm the subject of the fight.' It's not an ego stroke but it makes you interested in the fight in ways that you can't imagine."</p><p><strong>On his gratitude for the military</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"There is a residual sense for me, having grown up in the early '70s, that I did not know I had, which was a sense that the military are different than I. Because there was such a divide between the military world — and there still is, because there's no draft — and the civilian world is one of the rotten harvests of the Vietnam War, was this sort of bifurcation of America in that way.</p><p>"There was sort of a negative association with the military. Maybe growing up in the South or being in a family with members of the military, I didn't have that negative connotation, but I did have this 'separate' connotation. I was ashamed to realize I had it and did not realize I had it until I was [in Iraq]. I was so impressed by the people I met over there and there was just a sense of connection and gratitude towards those people.</p><p>"I called my daughter from Baghdad and she said, 'What's it like, Daddy?' And I said, 'Well, honey, however you feel about the war, when my show started, this was the worst place on Earth in 2005. And these young men and women have worked hard to make it someplace that might be a functioning democracy someday and you cannot help but feel proud for your nation in ways that I never have before.' " <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</p> Wed, 15 Jun 2011 18:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-15/stephen-colbert-good-company-broadway-87872 'Spider-Man': Worked over and reworked, does it work better now? http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-15/spider-man-worked-over-and-reworked-does-it-work-better-now-87873 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-15/115247972.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The day has come. <em>Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark</em> is open.</p><p>Almost ten years in the making, this stage treatment of the Marvel Comics superhero has become famous for going awry. Director Julie Taymor's vision was so complex that she needed $65 million to realize it, and when previews began late last year, her elaborate flying sequences resulted in gruesome actor injuries. Meanwhile, the script (by playwright Glen Berger) and the score (by U2's Bono and the Edge) were widely derided as a confusing mess.</p><p>Ultimately, Taymor got the boot, the show closed for several weeks during the spring, and new collaborators were hired to overhaul it for the official opening.<br />Ben Brantley of <em>The New York Times</em>, at least, is underwhelmed. He <a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/theater/reviews/spider-man-turn-off-the-dark-opens-after-changes-review.html?adxnnl=1&hpw=&adxnnlx=1308139831-8zKqptJWQgNkhP638FtjFQ" target="_blank">writes</a>, "The mega-expensive musical is no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It's just a bore."</p><p>Having seen the version that's now open, I agree ... to a point. There are certainly problems, but there are also plenty of thrilling moments in the production, which follows high school student Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) as he crushes on his classmate Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano), gets bitten by a radioactive spider, becomes Spider-Man, and then foils an evil plot by a mad scientist who turns into the Green Goblin (Patrick Page).</p><p>The high points have little to do with that story, which is now credited to Berger and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (whom I know personally). As Aguirre-Sacasa <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/06/14/137151984/at-long-last-curtain-to-rise-on-spider-man" target="_blank">recently told NPR</a>, writers can only do so much in a few weeks, especially when design elements and songs are locked into place. If the story is thin, it may be that there was nothing to be done about that.</p><p>Still, the first act is awfully perfunctory. In less than six minutes, we see Peter wake up with mutant powers, beat up some high school bullies, take down a massive wrestler, and cope with the murder of his Uncle Ben. He spouts a few reactions, but emotions can barely read when there are so many plot points to hit by intermission.</p><p></p><p>And it's not just Peter. All the characters are drones without subtext, making blunt statements like "I'm really angry!" or "This makes me sad!" You could argue that comic book characters are supposed to speak this way, but if archetypes are going to hold our attention, the single dimension they have needs to be a grand one. Here, Spider-Man mostly wants to kiss Mary Jane, even when he's got a city to defend.</p><p>We get hints of grandeur in the second act, when the Green Goblin fleshes out his plan to turn the entire city into mutants. That's a little silly, but it's a massive goal, and thwarting it at least gives Peter something to do. Bonus points go to the mythical Arachne (T.V. Carpio), a vestigial character from Taymor's earlier drafts, and one of the primary targets of criticism of the show when it previewed. She appears in a dream world, singing about the power of myth and her eternal ties to Peter. Her numbers are extraneous, but they hint at bigger themes lurking outside the show. They give you something to think about as you try to ignore "Bullying By Numbers."</p><p>That, by the way, is one of the formless songs by Bono and the Edge. It stops the show so that bullies can sing about how much they love beating people up, and it proves the composers have no experience writing for drama. A pro would handle the bullies in a few lines and save an actual song for something significant, like Peter's turmoil about his murdered uncle.</p><p>In fairness, these problems vanish when the flying begins. It's dazzling to see actors zoom through the theatre, and Taymor's gorgeous mask design enhances the sense that we're watching mythic creatures do battle around us.</p><p>Those moments are bolstered by the visual wit of the sets and costumes (designed by George Tsypin and Eiko Ishioka, respectively). For every expensive model of the Chrysler building that juts into the crowd and every metal suit that a secondary villain wears, there's also a cardboard cutout of a boom box and a floppy inflatable dinosaur wrapped around a henchman. The interplay of expensive flourishes and low-fi gags is playful and clever. It reminds us not to take the show too seriously.</p><p>Since the effects are so spectacular, <em>Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark</em> is not unbearable. In fact, some of the flying sequences are unforgettable, and there's no doubt that many people will love what they see. It's hard, on the other hand, to imagine anyone remembering the show's book or score, which means this musical is not much of a musical at all. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Wed, 15 Jun 2011 07:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-15/spider-man-worked-over-and-reworked-does-it-work-better-now-87873